An Attractive Children's Exhibition Fails to Deliver

‘Along the Lines of Imagination’ is an exhibition that aims to make children think about the significance of the line in art. The works are attractive, but the hands-on activities are disappointing and the museum’s guards were too eager to intervene.

Roni Kaufmann

If one criterion for the success of an art exhibition for children is the amount of time the little ones are capable of spending in it, then “Along the Lines of Imagination” at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art isn’t bad. Three children of the right age – between five and seven – and a girl who was supposedly too young (she’s three, and the exhibition is officially designated for kids four and older) spent an hour and a half there before being banished by a museum guard. (I’ll have more to say about that later.)

The exhibition consists of works of art in various media, mostly paintings – and too little animation – together with interactive items that are intended to pique children’s curiosity about the importance of the line as a basic means to create an image. They also get the opportunity to try painting for themselves, with the help of lines. This exercise uses different means, such as light or touch, to ponder optical illusions that lines generate, as well as to understand the connection between feeling linear shapes and the mental representation of a form.

Girls naturally stop to observe mainly works in which other girls – or, as they are known generically, “princesses” – are depicted. Thus Picasso’s drawing “Francoise,” which the girls found very beautiful, attracted great attention, as did a drawing in colored pens by Meira Shemesh, also of a young woman. The children were also taken by “Druksland,” by Michael Druks, who paints his face like a topographical map. I am not sure, however, that they were any the wiser about what a topographical map is after my explanation. Those three works, hanging side by side, as well as a painting by Raffi Lavie, were interesting examples of works based on lines alone, but afterward the children wanted to move on to something of a different type. (When I was no longer able to restrain myself and asked whether they thought that Lavie’s painting was done by a child or an adult, one of the girls replied in a what-a-dumb-question tone of voice, “I don’t paint like that.”)

Photo by Roni Kaufmann

The exhibition’s weak point is the hands-on element. The only activity that was interesting and effective was quite simple: a panel with pictures of some famous art works by the likes of Van Gogh, Jackson Pollock, Roy Lichtenstein and others, which acted as a springboard for a discussion about different types of lines. Available to the children are magnets with words that describe various lines – broken, vertical, horizontal, open, closed, soft, thick, etc. – and the young visitors are invited to attach each magnet to a picture on which lines of that type appear.

Mistrust for parents

The other activities suffered from a poor level of maintenance and execution, or just a lack of interest. For example, a striped cell with a distorting mirror, which is supposed to illustrate the optical illusions that widthwise lines can create, didn’t deliver the goods. Moreover, the aprons and bibs the children are supposed to wear in order to be swallowed up into the background are already tattered from overuse, even though the exhibition opened only a few months ago (and is meant to run for about a year). A darkroom that was supposed to resemble Picasso’s paintings with light worked from the inside but not from the outside – inside you could paint on the wall using a flashlight, but the computer that is supposed to show the final result outside, didn’t work. This hitch recurred during two visits to the exhibition.

But the strongest impression the exhibition left on me was a certain confusion between art education for the children and education for their parents. For example, at the entrance to the exhibition parents receive a sheet of recommendations. “Turn the visit to the exhibition into a dialogue between you and the children,” the sheet says, and “Read the texts on the walls together with your child, so you can get the most from the exhibition,” and of course, “Ensure that your children do not harm the works of art and the active exhibits. They were made for your enjoyment.” There might be visitors who feel that these banal instructions help them, but to me they read like a basic mistrust of parental instincts.

In addition, the exhibition space is too small. Maybe the museum, which has undergone major expansion in recent years, could consider devoting a somewhat larger area to its children’s exhibitions. Just because they are smaller people doesn’t mean that they like to be pressed up against one another.

On top of which, there are too many museum guards lurking in the space. Showing good will and overzealousness, these women intervene when the right thing would be to maintain greater aesthetic distance. It’s not just the works shown in the exhibition that need this – so do the visitors. For example, we were fiercely persecuted because of a cat-shaped doll that was occasionally left behind for a moment in order to examine one object or another, as though there was any way we would forget that ticking bomb. And when one of the girls broke into bitter tears as a result of a standard sisters’ quarrel, a guard immediately asked me to remove her from the gallery and calm her down, not forgetting to add a free tip, to the effect that maybe the child was hungry or thirsty, so we should betake ourselves to the cafeteria.

The hint taken, we ejected ourselves from the museum to a place where we would be spared parenting advice. On the way out we entered another gallery on the same level, in which a large wood installation, “Arabesque #3,” by Mahmood Kaiss, is on view. It’s not part of the children’s exhibition, of course, but it offers a better example than anything in it of the relations between two dimensions and three dimensions, and between lines and space. It’s worth having a peek at that work as a fitting conclusion to and summary of the exhibition about lines.